As Scott McGregor and Mike Boddicker sat in the almost-empty Baltimore clubhouse and reviewed their March mistakes, their faces looked as if a pennant were slipping away in October.
"I'm overthrowing. It's like I'm hitting an invisible wall," said Boddicker plaintively. "I don't know where I come off thinking I can overpower people."
"I have to get away from runs in the first inning," said McGregor. "Did you see that kid, No. 72? First pitch, he's sitting on the change-up. How can he do that? A few years ago, if I start him with a change, it might be the first one he ever saw in his life.
"Now, you have to treat the young like the old. You're the guinea pig."
When the Orioles won the World Series in 1983, McGregor and Boddicker, the stars of the staff, were a mutual admiration tandem -- left- and right-handed reflections of the same finesse style.
Now, they're bonded by mutual commiseration. And a common fear.
"You feel like 10 years of work has gone under the bridge and washed away," says McGregor. "It's frustrating shrug , but you know it's true . . . .
"I'm trying to get people out now," said McGregor, who has been hit as hard this spring as he was last season, when his ERA (4.81) and gopher balls (34) were atrocious. "Everybody says winning isn't important down here. Get smoked and see how important it is. Their patience isn't going to be what it used to be. And you have to prove to yourself what you can still do."
In a vote of minimal confidence, Manager Earl Weaver said, "There are guys who can't lose a job here, but you'll be quicker to make switches once the season starts. Three, four, five starts, that's about as far as you can go. They don't have to be March pitchers, but they got to be April-May pitchers. Last year, if you thought that way, you wouldn't blame 'em if they screamed. But things have changed."
What hasn't changed since McGregor culminated five straight glory years (78-38) with a shutout to end the '83 Series? What's the same for Boddicker, who began his career 43-21, then ended last season in a 6-16 catastrophe?
Both have won 20 games. Both have risen from excellent to great under postseason pressure. Their combined postseason ERA is 1.20 in 68 innings. And now both, mired in mediocre exhibition seasons, wonder if they can hold a job.
When the Orioles talk about their crisis of starting pitching, they are talking about Boddicker and McGregor.
After all, Mike Flanagan has not been the staff ace since 1979, and Storm Davis, Dennis Martinez and Ken Dixon have never held such a role.
"We've always kept two guys on a roll all year. You could watch them to reinforce how to do it . . . that it wasn't that hard," said McGregor. "But not last year."
If the Orioles have two stoppers, everything else will probably fall in place. If they don't, everything will probably fall apart. That's a ton of pressure to put on the shoulders of two slender men who, between them, don't have a big league fast ball. When you live by "foshballs" and "deadfish," roundhouse curves and BP fast balls, pinpoint control and loud outs, changing speeds and great defense, your self-confidence is often your Achilles' heel.
"We have to throw more strikes. That's the key for both of us, and that comes with more confidence," said Boddicker. But that can be a vicious circle. Without confidence, how do you throw the 1-1 curve ball for a strike or cut your fast ball two inches off the plate for a double play grounder on 2-2?
All baseball is an interwoven web that, once ripped, is hell to repair. At the moment, McGregor and Boddicker don't know where to begin the repairs.
Cause and effect can become a maze. "When I relax, I get ground balls. When Scotty relaxes and follows his change with the high fast ball, he gets pop-ups," said Boddicker, who has been hit hard all spring, but looked outstanding last night against the Yankees. But how do you relax, especially when you're worrying about old injuries and lost faith?
McGregor broke the ring finger of his pitching hand late in '84 and, after being in a cast, still hasn't regained all his strength in certain muscle groups.
Boddicker gets to fall asleep thinking about the knee tendinitis that led to shoulder strain that, in turn, led to his skipping the last 2 1/2 weeks of the '85 season.
Although they try to bite their tongues, both men have another worry. "Defense plays a big part for Scotty and I, and there were a lot of defensive lapses last year," said Boddicker. "We used to have two-out innings when a great play or a double play helped us. Now, we have four or five-out innings when a play isn't made. To finesse pitchers, that makes a big difference.
"The defense isn't the same, but we're supposed to be the same," he said tartly.
The Orioles have made their bed, and McGregor and Boddicker are in it.
"The people you trade for, because they've changed uniforms, are thought of automatically as stars, but the people you keep, because you 'stood pat,' are lousy," grumbled General Manager Hank Peters. "All I hear is 'Forget Baltimore. Their pitchers are finished.' "
Mostly, McGregor and Boddicker are tight-jawed gents these days. But, at times, the cockiness of '83 returns. Recently, Boddicker and Davis started needling Flanagan with McGregor in the audience.
Boddicker: "Who's pitching today?"
Davis: "The old veteran."
Boddicker: "You know, when Flanagan broke in, Hitler was only a colonel."
Davis: "And Moby Dick was just a minnow."
Boddicker: "We need a heady veteran who knows how to deal with adversity."
Davis (without missing a beat), "Because he helps us all keep the game in perspective. I'm going to school in the offseason so I can grow up to be like him."
Boddicker: "Remember, that's Flanagan spelled with no I's."
Davis, playing off the time Mizuno sent Flanagan a glove inscribed "Mike Franigan Model": "Or, if you're Japanese, no R's."
If McGregor and Boddicker prove that 1985 was just one aberrant season in the midst of two classy careers, then such locker room vaudeville will be back. With the Orioles laughing last again.